Enniskillen Workhouse, which is a Grade B2 listed Victorian building, has been redeveloped following a £3.25m project delivered by Kriterion Conservation Architects (the conservation arm of Hamilton Architects).
Opened on 1st December 1845, the current structure formed part of one of 160 workhouses in Ireland designed by architect George Wilkinson. Records show that during the Great Famine around 10,000 people passed through its doors.
The main workhouse was demolished in 1964 with the surviving entrance block becoming part of the old Erne Hospital. When the hospital closed 10 years ago, the building was identified as being at risk and in need of urgent repair.
The redevelopment project – supported by a £2.3m grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund – was a collaboration between Fermanagh and Omagh District Council and South West College.
The building, now part of Erne Campus, has been repurposed as a heritage centre and business enterprise hub, along with a new glass roof converting a former courtyard into an exhibition/seminar space, and a new lightweight glazed lobby marking the rear entrance.
Internally, modern partitions have been removed to reveal the original plan form of the building, with a ‘heritage route’ providing access to the rooms with the most historic character. Externally, the original courtyards have been reinstalled.
A new lift and staircase extension provides access to the state-of-the-art innovation hub on the first floor, which accommodates business workstations, breakout areas, meeting room, toilets and ancillary spaces.
Original features such as exposed stone walls and floors, ledge and brace doors, casement windows, fireplaces and hearths have been retained. New multi-paned casement windows replicate the originals.
Dry lining has been removed to reveal old stonework, concealed fireplaces opened up, and original walls repaired using lime-plaster. Suspended ceilings and modern flooring have been removed, revealing historic timber beams, quarry tiles and limestone flagstones.
On the ground floor, a mixed-use exhibition and reminiscence space managed by Fermanagh County Museum displays some of the surviving workhouse records, along with numerous artefacts.
These include worn-out shoes which were found concealed in the attic. Shoes have been hidden in buildings since the 13th century for luck, so a pair of shoes inside a box specially made from the old floorboards has been put back into the attic.
Workers also discovered hundreds of cows’ teeth, taken from cows’ heads used to make soup for the inmates, and an 1859 bible belonging to a young boy called William Ferguson. The original workhouse bell is on prominent display.
One hundred local craftspeople and contractors benefited from heritage training during the build, with the creation of 12 apprenticeships seeing students gain accreditations in traditional stone masonry, plastering and joinery skills.